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According to Miner (2007), organizational behavior describes concepts and theories of the workplace and majorly studies individual and group dynamics within an organization or its setting. In most instances as people interact within an organization, a number of factors come into play. Organizational behavior attempts to understand and model these factors. Recently, a number of employees have resorted to the use of contingency reinforcement strategies to instill a self leadership form of motivation instead of the traditional carrot-and-stick approach. This paper discusses the use of contingencies of reinforcement as an organizational behavior issue in the U.S. workplace setting.

Modern Day Organizational Behavior

Miner (2007) defines organization as a collection of interacting and inter-related personnel and non-personnel resources working together towards achieving a common goal or group of goals within the scaffold of structured relationships. Organizational behavior concerns itself with every aspect of how the organization affects the behavior of individuals and how these individuals, in turn, influence the organization in this scaffold of structured relationship.

Hellriegel and Slocum (2009), on the other hand, view organizational behavior as an interdisciplinary field that taps freely from a number of behavioral sciences like anthropology, sociology, psychology and many others. Organizational behavior aims at applying the models of behavioral sciences to the pressing problems of management and administrative theory and practice. According to Hellriegel and Slocum (2009), problems and issues in organizational behavior have historically been viewed from a closed system point of view. The major preoccupation of this point of view is to maximize efficiency of internal operations, which has made substantial contributions towards the theory of organizational design.

Despite the ability to maximize efficiency, this point of view has made organizations be viewed as precise and complex machines, and the individual human beings have been reduced to mere components of this organizational machine. Hellriegel and Slocum (2009) have asserted that recent organizational behavior studies have assumed an open-systems approach, in which external factors like human attitudes and sentiments, as well as sociological and technological forces have a vital importance in analyzing organizational behavior. This open perspective is more contemporary and offers a more meaningful way to view organizations and the behavior of humans within them.

According to Hellriegel and Slocum (2009), the modern day organizational behavior highlights a number of issues that have been rapidly changing the work environment. Among these issues is the use of contingencies of reinforcement to put in place self-leadership traits among the employees and do away with the traditional carrot and stick approach towards employee motivation. In Hellriegel and Slocum’s (2009) view, the carrot and stick approach has been coined from the folk tale, in which the rider of a donkey ties a big carrot on one end of a long piece of stick. He then dangles the shiny big carrot in front of the donkey so that the donkey can develop the urge and temptation to eat it.  In essence, the presence of this bag carrot motivates the donkey to pull the cart and work more.

In organizational behavior, the use of the carrot and stick approach is applied in case employer calculates salary, introduces benefits, and perks central to the employee’s work life probably as a means to motivate them to perform better in the workplace.  Unfortunately, Hellriegel and Slocum (2009) argue that the trend in today’s world has changed, and employees are no longer finding money and other extrinsic rewards as a source of motivation towards better performance in the organization. This has been the issue characterizing the American workplace situation in the 21st century.

According to Hellriegel and Slocum (2009), Pink’s persuasive theory shows that the modern day employee cannot be compared to a horse, as the reward-punishment theorists who are in favor of thee carrot-and-stick approach assert. The Pink’s persuasive theory brings it out clearly that the carrot and stick approach worked effectively in the 19th and 20th century, but is ineffective as a motivator for the modern day employee. In addition, this approach proved to be effective in the typical tasks in the 19th and 20th centuries, which were routinely performed, unchallenging and intensively controlled.

In the view of Hellriegel and Slocum (2009), these tasks involved straightforward processes and required no lateral thinking. Due to this fact, the provision of rewards was able to provide small motivational boosts without occurrence of any harmful side effect. Organizational behavior in the 21st century has drastically changed the perception of jobs, given that they have become more interesting, more complex, and more self directed.

Pierce and Cheneey (2008) view this 21st century perception of work as having changed the carrot and stick approach and made it outdated. In Hellriegel and Slocum (2009) and Pink’s persuasive theory, the more creative and complex jobs of the 21st century do not require the traditional rewards. Traditional leads to less production than what is actually desired and result into the production of what is not wanted. The traditional carrot and stick approach is aimed at rewarding sought after behaviors and punishing the behaviors that are unwanted and ought to be discouraged. The use of the traditional carrot and stick approach in today’s world tends to inhibit creativity, produce short-term effects, diminish employee performance, narrow the thinking of the employees, and inhibit their creativity.

Pink’s persuasive theory proposes an employees’ self leadership approach to motivation, which focuses on innate human needs to direct the lives of the employees instead of the carrot-and-stick approach. According to Pierce and Cheneey (2008), this approach is based upon three guiding principles, that is autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Pierce and Cheneey (2008) further claim that the complex, self directed and creative modern day jobs when subjected to the carrot-and-stick traditional reward and motivation criteria will produce unexpected results. These results are: diminished intrinsic motivation, lower performance, crowding out effect of good behavior, less creativity due to a narrowed down focus, unethical behavior, short-term thinking, and addictions.

This traditional carrot and stick approach made extensive use of the contingencies for reinforcement approach and McGregor’s theory X. Pierce and Cheneey (2008) define theory X as referring to the traditional view of direction and control, which assumes that the average employee dislikes work and would wish to avoid his or her responsibilities if possible. This theory requires the worker to be coerced and controlled so that the organizational objective can be achieved.

Contingencies of Reinforcement in the American Workplace

Contingency of reinforcement has been defined by Miner (2007) as the relationship between a given behavior and the preceding environmental events that influence the behavior in question. In addition, contingency for reinforcement refers to the consequences that increase, stabilize, or reduce the probability that a specified behavior will be repeated. Pierce and Cheney (2008) have further defined contingency of reinforcement as a determinant of the relationship between an occasion, an operant class and the consequence that follows the behavior. According to Miltenberger (2011), changing the interrelationships among organizational environments, employees, behavior, and consequences, is referred to as managing the contingencies of reinforcement.

According to Hellriegel and Slocum (2009), the basic components of contingency of reinforcement are antecedent, behavior, and consequence. Antecedent refers to the stimulus that precedes the behavior. In Hellriegel and Slocum (2009), antecedents refers to the instructions, goals, and advice that helps employees recognize which behaviors are acceptable and which ones are not and lets them know the consequences of such behaviors. Behavior, on the other hand, signifies the trait emitted in response to the stimulus. The consequence details the positive or negative end results of the behavior in terms of the task or goals accomplished. In most instances, the manager’s response to an employee is dependent on the consequence of the behavior.

The managers are in a number of times placed at a good position to control the contingencies of reinforcement influencing the behavior of their subordinates and, in consequence, the actual behavior of their subordinates. According to Singh (2010), reinforcements use either primary or secondary reinforces. The primary reinforces are based upon the satisfaction of psychological needs like food, air, water, sex, and escape from pain among others.  These reinforces refer to event of which the employee already knows their value. Secondary reinforces, on the other hand, are learned reinforces mostly from events, which the individual or employee has a neutral value of, but has some negative or positive perception about, especially from another employees’ past experiences.

Singh (2010) refers to the consequences that work to strengthen behavior as positive and negative reinforcements. Consequences that weaken the behavior are extinction and punishment. In Singh’s (2010) point of view, positive reinforcement involves following a desired behavior through the application of a pleasant stimulus. This pleasant stimulus is applied with the main intention of increasing the probability of the occurring of desired behavior. Positive reinforcement in the organization includes job promotions, salary increases, praises, merit raises, awards, and more desirable work schedules among others.

In Singh’s (2010) view, negative reinforcement involves the removal of unpleasant stimulus on the appearance of a desired behavior. This removal should increase the probability of the intended behavior being repeated. For example, a line manager would require his employees to leave duty two hours late whenever the production or output falls below a minimum level. In this respect, the employees will strive for high performance levels and produce at their maximum levels in the next day so as to avoid the unpleasant extra two hours of duty.

Negative reinforces are of two types; escape learning and avoidance learning. Escape learning in Singh (2010) refers to the situation when an employee emits an “escape response” to terminate the occurrence of an unpleasant event. Avoidance learning, on the other hand, is when the employee emits certain behaviors to prevent unpleasant events from happening.

Singh (2010) defines extinction or omission as involving the removal of a given reinforcement of behavior that is maintaining the undesired trait. In most instances, if a specified behavior is not reinforced it gradually dies off and becomes extinct. A good example of extinction is a case where there is a worker who every twenty minutes after reporting to the office, talks about her personal life, and her colleagues have been polite enough to listen to her attentively as she narrates her personal experiences. In essence, these colleagues have been reinforcing her behavior by listening to her attentively. In order to stop this undesired behavior, her colleagues must stop listening to her and ignore all her conversations after exchanging some brief courtesies by turning around or even walking out of the office where her work place is.

According to Singh (2010), omission has been used by mangers extensively to reduce undesirable employee behaviors that prevent the achievement of organizational goals. In the stick and carrot approach, a series of steps in the removal of reinforcing events were employed. First of all, the behavior to be reduced or omitted was identified to the employees. Afterwards, the reinforcer that maintains this behavior was also identified, and, finally, this re-enforcer is stopped. In Singh (2010) perspective, omission has proved to be a useful technique in reducing and eventually eliminating behaviors that disrupt a normal workflow. For example, the team in the organization can reinforce a disruptive behavior by laughing at it, and when they stop laughing, the disruptive behavior will diminish and eventually be omitted.

In the outdated carrot and stick approach to employee motivation, omission had resulted into accidental failures to reinforce behaviors positively. According to Miltenberger (2011), mangers may use omission without recognizing and, therefore, inadvertently decrease the frequency of desirable traits among the employees. Managers did this by simply doing nothing, which they believed had no effect on performance. Contrarily, by doing nothing, the performance will be changed and if employees take their own initiative to go beyond what is required, they will definitely stop their behaviors if they are not reinforced.

According to Miltenberger (2011), if people take shortcuts in areas of quality and safety and nothing is said about it, then omission will cause such undesirable behaviors to continue, as it has been seen in the American workplace situation. The consequence of this lack of reinforcement is that creativity will be killed and people will only perform what is required. Most employees will be reactive and not proactive, opting to work only when it is necessary. The present world is composed of hyperactive job seekers who want challenging situations and opportunities to challenge the existing notions and cause changes in their surrounding. Organizations that still stick to the carrot and stick approach are soon being faced out due to the lack of growth opportunities and these elements which modern day employees dearly seek for.

Punishment and Rewards

According to Miltenberger (2011), the punishment aspect of contingencies of reinforcement involves following a given unwanted behavior with the application of some unpleasant stimulus or event. This application is carried out with an intention to decrease the frequency of the occurrence of the behavior in question. In most instances, this unpleasant stimulus should reduce the probability of the undesired behavior repeating itself. Events qualify as punishers not by the fact that they are unpleasant, but because they have the tendency to reduce or decrease an undesired behavior.

According Miltenberger’s (2011) view of organizational behavior, organizations have resorted to several severe forms of unpleasant events like oral reprimands, suspensions, written warnings, demotions, and discharges. Other extreme punishments include suspension without pay, demotions, or firing of an employee for failing to achieve the desired goal.  These unpleasant events have generally been reserved by many organizations for cases of serious behavior problems. Even though punishment may reduce and, consequently, eliminate undesired employee behaviors in the short run; a long term sustained application of punishment will make the organization dysfunctional. Studies show that the potential negative consequences of punishments may be greater than the original undesirable behavior.

According to Miltenberger (2011), punishment results into undesirable emotional reactions. He gave an example that an employee who has been reprimanded for staying on a break for too long may react with anger towards the manager and the organization. This reaction may lead to behaviors which are detrimental to the organization like sabotage. Furthermore punishment only leads to short-term suppression of the undesirable behaviors rather than their elimination. In this respect, the suppression of undesirable behaviors over the long periods of time usually requires continued and increasingly severe punishments.

Miltenberger (2011) additionally asserts that punishments make the control of undesired behaviors contingent to the presence of the manager. This situation is evident in the situation where the manager is not around and the undesirable employee behavior is highly likely to recur. Furthermore, the punished individual may try to avoid or escape the situation or tasks that may lead to punishment. This practice is unacceptable from the organization’s point of view, especially if the employee avoids particular essential tasks. Furthermore, the use of punishments frequently results into high absenteeism rates, or quitting which is the employee’s final form of escape.

Miltenberger (2011) further claims that an organization which depends on punishments is likely to have high rates of employee turnover. Excessive turnover is damaging to an organization in terms of the costs it will incur in recruitment and training of new employees. Furthermore, punishment suppresses the employee’s flexibility and initiative, since as a form of reaction to punishment, most employees resort to doing just what they are told and nothing more, nothing less. This attitude is undesirable in the organization, given that organizations depend on personal initiative and creativity that the individual employees bring to their jobs. If this is not enough, the overuse of punishment produces apathetic employees who are not assets to an organization.

Additionally, the sustained use of punishments leads to low self esteem among the employees, which, in turn, undermines their self-confidence which is vital in carrying out most jobs. According to Miltenberger (2011), punishment also produces a conditional fear for the management; in this respect managers become environmental cues that indicate to employees the probability of an aversive event occurrence. If the operations require frequent, positive, and normal interactions between employees and managers, such situations would definitely become quickly intolerable.

Apart from making organizations dysfunctional, the inappropriate use of punishments creates long term interpersonal problems which are harmful for the health of the organization. According to Miltenberger (2011), this inappropriate use of punishments occurs when the manager acts out of anger or frustrations, and when there is inadequate interpersonal communication. The problems caused by inappropriate use of communication are: reduction of trust, stifling of motivation, undermine and destruction of relationships. Managers opt to use punishment, given that it produces fast results in the short run and its reinforcement produces immediate changes in the behavior of the employees. Consequently, continual use of punishments causes the managers to ignore the detrimental long term effects of punishments, which can be cumulative.

The Modern Day Application of Contingencies for Reinforcement

In the 19th century, the contingencies of reinforcement had been used inappropriately together with McGregor’s theory X to apply the carrot and stick motivational approach. Unfortunately, this carrot and stick approach creates more problems in the 21st century workplace, and has seen most managers in the United States opting for a self leadership approach in handling their employees. This self leadership approach makes use of the contingencies of reinforcement approach, but with some slight changes and a major emphasis on effective use of punishments. According to Pierce and Cheneey (2008), most organizations today are employing the contingencies of reinforcement to their systems, but with major emphasis on six key areas.

These areas are: not rewarding all the employees in the same way, for example, taking the individual differences of the employees into account before rewarding them with consequences that they shall personally value within constraints of perceived equity. The second aspect is about taking into account both actions and non action of the contingencies for reinforcement. The third aspect involves making the employees aware of the types of behavior that will be reinforced and ensuring that they are uniformly reinforced. The fourth aspect, according to Pierce and Cheneey (2008), is about letting the employees be aware of what they are doing wrong, and the last two aspects are about not punishing the employees in front of others and management making its response equal to worker’s behavior.

In this new approach towards contingencies of reinforcement, two schedules of reinforcements are applied – continuous and intermittent. In the continuous reinforcement every behavior is reinforced, and in the intermittent, only selected behaviors are reinforced. In addition, this new approach employs the effective use of punishment, given that positive reinforcement has proved to be more effective compared to punishment over the long run. According to Pierce and Cheneey (2008), punishment in this approach is done in private, and most of it takes the form of oral reprimand. This approach is in line with the common rule of thumb that says “Punish in private; praise in public”. The assumption within this approach is that private punishment establishes a different type of contingency of reinforcement compared to public punishment. Private reprimands have proved informative and constructive, compared to the public ones which have negative effects, since the employee has been embarrassed.

This approach avoids oral reprimands that pinpoint behaviors or bad attitudes, but rather t describes the undesirable behavior that should be avoided in the future. This form of punishment employed by the modern strategy of motivation focuses on the target behavior and avoids issuing threats to the employee’s self image. In effect, this approach punishes the specific undesirable behavior and not the person, since behavior is easier to change than the person. In Pierce and Cheneey (2008), this approach stresses on the aspect of punishment which trains a person in what he ought not to do rather than in what he ought to do. In this respect, the manager specifies an alternative behavior to the employee. When the employee performs this desired behavior, the manager reinforces this behavior positively.

In this new approach, the managers strike an appropriate balance between the use of pleasant and unpleasant events. In addition, this self leadership approach involves the reinforcement of employee’s own volition, for example, when the employee consistently comes on time, the manger compliments him. Pierce and Cheneey (2008) assert that this new approach involves the use of the social learning theory, in which the managers try as much as possible to identify the behaviors of their employees which lead to improved performance.

After this identification the managers then select an appropriate model to use in encouraging these behaviors. Afterwards, manager makes sure that the employees have requisite skills, after which he creates a positive learning situation. In this social learning theory approach, the manager further provides positive consequences for successful performance like the introduction of reinforcements. Pierce and Cheneey (2008) assert that after all these, the manger develops support for the new behaviors through maintaining proper contingencies of reinforcement.

This new approach in organizational behavior tries to use less of external motivation or manipulation through offering incentives or threats due to the fact that these approaches only work for the cases where the employee is interested in the incentive. In this respect, these external motivation approaches are limited in the nature of their overall effectiveness. Pierce and Cheneey (2008) assert that the use of less extrinsic motivation, positive or negative, results into the employees widening their thinking. The more these motivations are utilized, the more a “what is in it for me” mentality is created in the lives of the employees.

According to Pierce and Cheneey (2008), this new approach focuses on the internal self motivation, when the employees are not waiting to be carrot-and-stickled around in order to do what needs to be carried out. Rather the employees in this approach have an internal, inspiring, and ever present desire to make things happen. This form of motivation has its origins from within the individual, it self sustains, and self rewards. In the present world, work appears to be more of a satisfaction or can be a source of resentment. The avoidance of responsibility and the lack of ambition in the job emanate from negative experiences in specified work, like not getting rewards associated with the efforts and achievements the employees have put in place.


In conclusion, organizational behavior studies various concepts and theories of the workplace, like those of individual and group dynamics within an organization or its setting, as well as the nature of the organization itself. It has been the trend in the 19th and 20th centuries to view problems in organizations from the closed system point of view, which only makes organizations to be viewed as precise and complex machines and the employees to be taken as mere components of this organizational machine. The onset of the 21st century has seen a drastic change in the organizational behavior, like the resentment of the traditional carrot-and-stick approach to motivation together with this closed system point of view.

A more open system has been preferred which factors in human sentiments, attitudes, and other technological and sociological forces within the organization. The carrot-and-stick approach manipulatively used the contingencies for reinforcement approach to derive benefits from the employees. In this approach, misappropriate use of punishment and rewards had led to high employee turnover and undesired effects like absenteeism and lack of ambition among the employees in the work place. The new approach of self-leadership focuses on contingencies of reinforcement, but has a bias on using intrinsic motivation rather the extrinsic which involves use of money and treats. Most organizations have shifted from the defunct and unhealthy carrot and stick approach to self leadership by positively implementing the contingencies of reinforcements approach.

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